In a real-life redemption fairy tale, almost too unbelievable to be a plot in a Hollywood movie, the “Gypsy King” Tyson Fury came all the way back from three years of self-abuse, drugs and depression to give WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder a thorough boxing lesson over twelve exciting rounds Saturday night at the Staples Center in LA.
Going into the fight, the question was whether or not Fury could regain enough of the form he used three years to upset the undisputed and long reigning heavyweight king, Wladimir Klitschko, to be truly competitive with Wilder. The conventional wisdom was that Tyson Fury had taken on Wilder too soon. After all he weighed at least 400 pounds a little more than a year before Saturday night. In addition to shedding at least an entire welterweight fighter, he’d need to regain most of the form and stamina he showed against Klitschko to be competitive with Wilder. In the view of most, including this writer, that was an impossibility given the short time since he’d begun his comeback to prizefighting. For his part, Wilder had the luxury of being a man who could end the fight at any time with one punch, further compounding the difficulty of Fury’s assignment by reducing his margin of error to one mistake. To characterize a Tyson Fury victory over Wilder as unlikely would’ve been a serious understatement.
One person who didn’t buy into the conventional wisdom was Tyson Fury. He told anyone and everyone who would listen that he had already achieved his greatest victory in life by overcoming a life-threatening downward spiral at the hands of depression, drinking and drug abuse. He certainly seemed to have regained a zest for life, thoroughly enjoying himself during the build-up to the Wilder fight. His weight, initially a joke, appeared to have melted from his body. If anything, Fury was now sporting the gaunt look of a fit fighter. He’d overcome the weight too. But there was the matter of his boxing form, the timing and stamina, the ring rust that had to be a factor after three years of self-abuse in pugilistic purgatory. His two tune-up “exhibitions” barely scratched the surface of what he’d need to do to sharpen himself to the edge he’d need. Again, Tyson Fury told everyone that it wouldn’t matter. That we would not see the Tyson Fury that dethroned Klitschko, we’d see a better, improved version.
One of the reasons we watch sports, is that sometimes, on rare occasions, reality seems to climb into the back seat while the unlikely, the unreal grabs the wheel and drives the car. What shouldn’t happen does, and we never forget it. Broadway Joe Namath defeating the Baltimore Colts. The 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team. Ray Leonard coming back after 5 years off to defeat Marvelous Marvin Hagler. The “Immaculate Reception.”
From the opening bell, it was obvious that Tyson Fury believed everything he’d had to say during the lead-up to the fight. He was all in. Deontay Wilder may have edged a close first round as Fury tested his boundaries, but from that point on Tyson Fury began putting rounds in the bank. Fury boxed with a gutsy confidence, an ease that seemed to surprise and befuddle Wilder. By the middle of the fight, not only was Fury in control, he was showing no signs of slowing down, no signs that his personal ordeal and inactivity would contribute to a betrayal of his endurance. Wilder, on the other hand, was being made to look like a contestant in a tough man contest by comparison. He’d been reduced to wild swinging right hands and left hooks that missed by alarming margins. Wilder was also growing increasingly frustrated. Tyson Fury was, impossibly, in career form. Better, smoother, quicker than he’d been against Klitschko three years before.
Then came round nine and reality’s first half-hearted appearance. Midway through the ninth frame, Wilder put together a flurry of punches in close that ended with a right hand to the back of the head just behind the ear. Just like that, the “Gypsy” was down. Reality, conventional wisdom was fighting for the steering wheel, attempting to correct the course of the evening’s events. The look on Fury’s face as he climbed off of the canvas told the story. He wasn’t that hurt, it had not been a perfect punch, he had grown complacent and paid for it. Deontay Wilder moved in for the kill but Fury, stubbornly, refused to play along. He stalled, held and punched his way out of trouble, backing Deontay Wilder, and conventional wisdom, off and by the end of the round, was beating them both again. Fury had made his one mistake and overcome it.
Rounds ten and eleven, as though the ninth had occurred in a vacuum, went to Fury as Wilder was once again reduced to swinging and missing, while Fury painted a picture of victory. Then came round 12 and conventional wisdom’s next attempt to scuttle what had become an exercise in pugilistic magical reality. Less than a minute into the twelfth round Deontay Wilder launched a perfect right hand, straight as an arrow, fully extended, accurate, that exploded off of Tyson Fury’s head, just above the chin. Fury had gone limp before the sweeping left hook insurance punch clubbed him flush on the way down. The Traveler landed hard, hitting his head on the canvas, neck snapping, arms over his head, eyes, unblinking–focused solely on outer space. He was out. Count to one-hundred, boxing’s version of a walk-off grand slam home run if there ever was one. Conventional wisdom, reality, had corrected the course of events, this time emphatically. Not so fast. Suddenly Fury was conscious. Before Wilder could finish his celebratory undulations in a neutral corner, Tyson Fury had pulled himself off of the canvas, barely beating the count. Once again Wilder moved in for the kill, this time with real malice. There was a lot of time left in the round, way too much, but Wilder, who was very tired, attacked with ferocity and all the precision of a tilting windmill. The moment passed, Fury survived and even managed to stagger the “Bronze Bomber” with a counter right hand towards the end of the round. The “Gypsy King” had made two mistakes and overcome both of them. The bell. It was over and Tyson Fury, the best Tyson Fury anybody had ever seen, had come all the way back from a personal hell, and to the top of the boxing world by giving Deontay Wilder, the sport’s most devastating pure puncher, a thorough boxing lesson.
The reality of the non-athletic side of boxing set in as the judges’ scorecards were read and they and the sport’s dysfunctional nature, proved to be the one reality Tyson Fury could not overcome. Ultimately though, it didn’t matter. The crowd at the Staples center and the viewers watching at home, saw something that they can’t un-see, witnessed one of those moments that compels us to keep watching sports; and boxing judges can’t take that away. With the draw, Deontay Wilder retains his WBC title, while, with his performance, Fury not only maintains his claim to the lineal championship, he’s breathed new life into that title itself. Fury can call himself “The Heavyweight Champion of the World” with as much legitimacy as anyone. Maybe more.
As for what’s next, Deontay Wilder may find himself the odd man out. While an immediate rematch would seem to be obvious, it may not happen as, in the aftermath of Fury/Wilder, an all UK heavyweight title showdown between Fury and Anthony Joshua just became the biggest fight the sport has to offer, while, considering Wilder’s performance, the buzz has probably been significantly reduced for a Joshua/Wilder clash. Joshua and Fury are now far more valuable to each other than Deontay Wilder would be to either man. From the perspective of Team Joshua, Fury is also far safer because even if AJ were to lose to Fury, it would almost certainly be via decision, thus setting up a few more equally lucrative battles.
Three years ago, after Tyson Fury defeated Wladimir Klitschko I wrote that Fury was not a breath, but a gust of fresh air for the sport. In overcoming everything–both self-inflicted and circumstantial, including a total victory over conventional wisdom–and coming all the way back, Tyson Fury is again a “gust of fresh air.”